List Of Contents | Contents of Letters From High Latitudes, by Lord Dufferin
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and duly planted the white ensign of St. George beside
her,--we left the superseded damsel, somewhat grimly
smiling across the frozen ocean at her feet, until some
Bacchus of a bear should come to relieve the loneliness
of my wooden Ariadne.

On descending to the water's edge, we walked some little
distance along the beach without observing anything very
remarkable, unless it were the network of vertical and
horizontal dikes of basalt which shot in every direction
through the scoriae and conglomerate of which the cliff
seemed to be composed. Innumerable sea-birds sat in the
crevices and ledges of the uneven surface, or flew about
us with such confiding curiosity, that by reaching out
my hand I could touch their wings as they poised themselves
in the air alongside. There was one old sober-sides with
whom I passed a good ten minutes tete-a-tete, trying who
could stare the other out of countenance.

It was now high time to be off. As soon then as we had
collected some geological specimens, and duly christened
the little cove, at the bottom of which we had landed,
"Clandeboye Creek,"--we walked back to the gig. But--so
rapidly was the ice drifting down upon the island,--we
found it had already become doubtful whether we should
not have to carry the boat over the patch which--during
the couple of hours we had spent on shore--had almost
cut her off from access to the water. If this was the
case with the gig, it was very evident the quicker we
got the schooner out to sea again the better. So immediately
we returned on board, having first fired a gun in token
of adieu to the desolate land we should never again set
foot on, the ship was put about, and our task of working
out towards the open water recommenced. As this operation
was likely to require some time, directly breakfast was
over, (it was now about eleven o'clock A.M.,) and after
a vain attempt had been made to take a photograph of the
mountain, which the mist was again beginning to envelope,
I turned in to take a nap, which I rather needed,--fully
expecting that by the time I awoke we should be beginning
to get pretty clear of the pack. On coming on deck,
however, four hours later, although we had reached away
a considerable distance from the land, and had even passed
the spot, where, the day before, the sea was almost
free,--the floes seemed closer than ever; and, what was
worse, from the mast-head not a vestige of open water
was to be discovered. On every side, as far as the eye
could reach, there stretched over the sea one cold white
canopy of ice.

The prospect of being beset, in so slightly built a craft,
was--to say the least--unpleasant; it looked very much
as if fresh packs were driving down upon us from the very
direction in which we were trying to push out, yet it
had become a matter of doubt which course it would be
best to steer. To remain stationary was out of the
question; the pace at which the fields drift is sometimes
very rapid, [Footnote: Dr. Scoresby states that the
invariable tendency of fields of ice is to drift
south-westward, and that the strange effects produced by
their occasional rapid motions, is one of the most striking
objects the Polar Seas present, and certainly the most
terrific. They frequently acquire a rotary motion, whereby
their circumference attains a velocity of several miles
an hour; and it is scarcely possible to conceive the
consequences produced by a body, exceeding ten thousand
million tons in weight, coming in contact with another
under such circumstances. The strongest ship is but an
insignificant impediment between two fields in motion.
Numbers of whale vessels have thus been destroyed; some
have been thrown upon the ice; some have had their hulls
completely torn open, or divided in two, and others have
been overrun by the ice, and buried beneath its heaped
fragments.] and the first nip would settle the poor little
schooner's business for ever. At the same time, it was
quite possible that any progress we succeeded in making,
instead of tending towards her liberation, might perhaps
be only getting her deeper into the scrape. One thing
was very certain,--Northing or Southing might be an even
chance, but whatever EASTING we could make must be to
the good; so I determined to choose whichever vein seemed
to have most Easterly direction in it. Two or three
openings of this sort from time to time presented
themselves; but in every case, after following them a
certain distance, they proved to be but CUL-DE-SACS, and
we had to return discomfited. My great hope was in a
change of wind. It was already blowing very fresh from
the northward and eastward; and if it would but shift a
few points, in all probability the ice would loosen as
rapidly as it had collected. In the meantime, the only
thing to do was to keep a sharp look-out, sail the vessel
carefully, and take advantage of every chance of getting
to the eastward.

It now grew colder than ever,--the distant land was almost
hid with fog,--tattered dingy clouds came crowding over
the heavens,--while Wilson moved uneasily about the deck,
with the air of Cassandra at the conflagration of Troy.
It was Sunday, the 14th of July, and I had a momentary
fancy that I could hear the sweet church bells in England
pealing across the cold white flats which surrounded us.
At last, about five o'clock P.M., the wind shifted a
point or two, then flew round into the south-east. Not
long after, just as I had expected, the ice evidently
began to loosen,--a promising opening was reported from
the mast-head a mile or so away on the port-bow, and by
nine o'clock we were spanking along, at the rate of eight
knots an hour, under a double-reefed mainsail and
staysail--down a continually widening channel, between
two wave-lashed ridges of drift ice. Before midnight, we
had regained the open sea, and were standing away

      "to Norroway,
   To Norroway, over the faem."

In the forenoon I had been too busy to have our usual
Sunday church; but as soon as we were pretty clear of
the ice I managed to have a short service in the cabin.

Of our run to Hammerfest I have nothing particular to
say. The distance is eight hundred miles, and we did it
in eight days. On the whole, the weather was pretty fair,
though cold, and often foggy. One day indeed was perfectly
lovely,--the one before we made the coast of Lapland,
--without a cloud to be seen for the space of twenty-four
hours; giving me an opportunity of watching the sun
performing his complete circle overhead, and taking a
meridian altitude at midnight. We were then in 70 degrees
25' North latitude; i.e., almost as far north as the
North Cape; yet the thermometer had been up to 80 degrees
during the afternoon.

Shortly afterwards the fog came on again, and next morning
it was blowing very hard from the eastward. This was the
more disagreeable, as it is always very difficult, under
the most favourable circumstances, to find one's way into
any harbour along this coast, fenced off, as it is, from
the ocean by a complicated outwork of lofty islands,
which, in their turn, are hemmed in by nests of sunken
rock, sown as thick as peas, for miles to seaward. There
are no pilots until you are within the islands, and no
longer want them,--no lighthouses or beacons of any sort;
and all that you have to go by is the shape of the
hill-tops; but as, on the clearest day, the outlines of
the mountains have about as much variety as the teeth of
a saw, and as on a cloudy day, which happens about seven
times a week, you see nothing but the line of their dark
roots,--the unfortunate mariner, who goes poking about
for the narrow passage which is to lead him between the
islands,--at the BACK of one of which a pilot is waiting
for him,--will, in all probability, have already placed
his vessel in a position to render that functionary's
further attendance a work of supererogation. At least,
I know it was as much surprise as pleasure that I
experienced, when, after having with many misgivings
ventured to slip through an opening in the monotonous
barricade of mountains, we found it was the right channel
to our port. If the king of all the Goths would only
stick up a lighthouse here and there along the edge of
his Arctic seaboard, he would save many an honest fellow
a heart-ache.

[Figure: fig-p130.gif]

I must now finish this long letter.

Hammerfest is scarcely worthy of my wasting paper on it.
When I tell you that it is the most northerly town in
Europe, I think I have mentioned its only remarkable
characteristic.  It stands on the edge of an enormous
sheet of water, completely landlocked by three islands,
and consists of a congregation of wooden houses, plastered
up against a steep mountain; some of which being built
on piles, give the notion of the place having slipped
down off the hill half-way into the sea. Its population
is so and so,--its chief exports this and that; for all
which, see Mr. Murray's "Handbook," where you will find
all such matters much more clearly and correctly set down
than I am likely to state them. At all events, it produces
milk, cream--NOT butter--salad, and bad potatoes; which
is what we are most interested in at present. To think
that you should be all revelling this very moment in
green-peas and cauliflowers! I hope you don't forget your
grace before dinner.  I will write to you again before
setting sail for Spitzbergen.



I have received a copy of the "Moniteur" of the 31st
July, containing so graphic an account of the voyage of
the "Reine Hortense" towards Jan Mayen, and of the
catastrophe to her tender the "Saxon,"--in consequence
of which the corvette was compelled to abandon her voyage
to the Northward,--that I must forward it to you.


   "Voyage of Discovery along the Banquise, north of Iceland,

"It fell to the lot of an officer of the French navy, M.
Jules de Blosseville, to attempt to explore those distant
parts, and to shed an interest over them, both by his
discoveries and by his tragical and premature end.

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